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TVC-Uawa clash will be epic

Buoyant Hicks Bay aiming to maintain urgency

Tihirau Victory Club versus Uawa has become a huge game of rugby in the past five years.

TVC (unbeaten in seven games this season and winners of the Kath McLean Memorial Cup for the first round) will tomorrow — in Week 2 of the second round — host an Enterprise Cars Ngati Porou East Coast club fixture for the first time in this, the 100th year of the sky blue union.

Uawa, who defended the Rangiora Keelan Memorial Shield as champions in 2019, have lost their past two games. They went down 28-10 to Tokararangi, who — at home a fortnight ago — would have beaten anybody. In Week 8, on home soil, Uawa fell 24-22 to a Hicks Bay side who win on grit first, razzle-dazzle a distant second.

Those two losses make the Chris Richardson-coached Uawa an even more dangerous proposition than would normally be the case.

TVC versus Uawa, for the George Keelan Memorial Trophy at Te Kura Mana Maori o Whangaparaoa under referee Jackson Reuben-Swinton, will — like the other two fascinating contests — kick off at 2.30pm tomorrow.

Ruatoria City, who had a bye last Saturday, lost 43-10 to TVC at home, Whakarua Park, in Week 8. They will now be out to reassert themselves on their own patch against Kuru Gray’s Tokomaru Bay United.

Poverty Bay official Isaac Hughes, a quality whistle-blower, will control things in what could be the most rugged game of the week.

Hikurangi, who are hosting Hicks Bay tomorrow, do not want to hand the Pirika Huriwai-Jones Memorial Trophy over at Kahuitara. In charge of the game will be Eruera Kawhia, a referee noted for his calmness and courtesy in the eye of the hurricane.

TVC didn’t play at home in Round 1 because of construction work at the kura (school) in Cape Runaway. TVC captain and openside flanker Mo Mato spoke for his excited but level-headed group.

“We’re looking forward to this, as is the entire community,” he said.

“The boys trained well tonight. We know that we’ve got to hold the ball, stop Uawa from scoring, and build pressure on them from there.”

“Danger” Richardson started at first five-eighth in the teams’ most famous meeting, at Uawa Domain on July 27, 2019, when — in front of 1500 fans — Tip Nukunuku’s outstanding unit came from 16-8 down at halftime to win 24-23.

Richardson knows his people, knows how they respond to pressure. He was candid about what they did and didn’t do against Hicks Bay: “We played well in patches but weren’t consistent enough in a number of areas — we built pressure, only to let them off with mistakes.”

Regular captain and tight forward Scott Lasenby is still nursing an injury to his right shoulder but, in response, halfback Sam Parkes has raised his own level of play: Parkes’s first-half try last week was a tribute to his reading of the game and explosiveness.

Tomorrow Uawa blindside flanker Te Atapo Kirikiri, openside flanker Tanira Nepia, first-five Josh Dearden and fullback Tipene Meihana will also be among those in dark blue wanting to have a crack at their hosts.

Fur could fly when Nepia and Kirikiri take on Mato and TVC No.8 Hoani Te Moana in the loose. Kirikiri (who wore No.7 on April 3) and Te Moana both scored tries in the Round 1 clash at the Domain — a 26-20 win to TVC.

Dearden’s opposite on Saturday, Manu Herewini, is gutsy. He made a try-saving goal-line tackle on Tokararangi’s fearsome No.8 William Bolingford in Week 4: Herewini won TVC’s MVP (most valuable player) award in that 13-8 away win.

The Victory Club must also keep tabs on Meihana, who is quick and elusive. However many or few the opportunities may be that come Meihana’s way, he takes his chances.

It can be hard for the underdog to remain grounded when they’ve beaten not just a favourite, but a titan.

Hicks Bay came from 10-0 down to turn the tables on more fancied opponents — Uawa — away from home last time out, and enthusiasm around the club and for rugby is on the rise.

Hicks Bay coach Aaron King is a happy man.

“Training was good, numbers at training were up, because everyone wants to play on Saturday,” he said.

“We just want our front row to do their job — that platform’s important — and play with the same urgency we had last weekend from the word go. We need to keep going forward.”

Strong forward play has always been a celebrated feature of rugby on the Coast, and no team recognise or put a higher price on grunt at scrum, teamwork at line-out, ruck, maul and with ball in hand, than do Hicks Bay.

Vice-captain and openside flanker Frank Taiapa and No.8 Anton King carry the ball strongly, and Pamona Samupo last week confirmed his worth — which is that powerfully built centre’s weight in gold.

Promising youngsters such as right wing Romeo Newey-Schumann are now in the mix with old hands such as Shaun Murtagh, captain and fullback. Hicks Bay are investing their backline with speed and flair. All clubs understand that new blood attracts more new blood and that means a bright future

Hicks Bay also have the depth to cover injuries even where old hands must do that for other old hands — Weihana Delamere, who played at lock last week, will start at No.6 tomorrow for blindside flanker Brady Heu, who has a minor back injury.

Hicks Bay’s opposition — Matt Richards’ Hikurangi — will test every player that the visitors put on the park at Kahuitara.

Openside flanker Kyle Beach, captain of The Maunga, has (in the opinion of Richards and other good judges) a huge heart and is in great form. Hikurangi first-five Te Aho Morice is a goal-kicker of quality and also one to watch out for in general play, while centre Zyon Collins is improving by the week.

Richards said: “We expect a hard-fought battle up front. Whoever prevails there will have gone a long way towards winning the game. We don’t want to lose the Pirika Huriwai-Jones Memorial Trophy.”

A lot of pride will be on show at Whakarua Park tomorrow.

Lisa Muller, coach of the home team — Ruatoria City — has put together an impressive line-up for the clash with Tokomaru Bay United.

Tighthead prop Pera Bishop, lock Codey Ellis and No.8 Tanetoa Parata are among City’s forwards, while halfback Neihana Ratahi-Brown, second-five Corey Walker and fullback Leethan Tipene-Rawiri are among the backs.

City are coming off a bye, having made a grand match-effort two weeks ago at home against TVC, the No.1 team in the competition. Muller’s side lost 43-10 that day in a result that had infinitely more to do with the Victory Club’s class than any fault of the hosts. For Tokararangi or Uawa to be in the frame to win the first round, TVC had first to fall to City, opening the door for either of Te Araroa’s or Tolaga Bay’s finest.

TVC did not oblige.

City are delighted to have Tim Barbarich, an experienced tight forward and former skipper, back from injury, although he will start on the reserves bench.

Muller said: “We want to play with structure and get our game-plan working this week. A big part of that will involve running the right lines in support to protect our own ball.”

The visitors to Ruatoria tomorrow are fizzing with enthusiasm. Front-row forward injuries and player safety in those positions being paramount, United did not field a side in Week 8.

TBU captain and loosehead prop Mike Chambers-Raroa is to join forces with rake Wyntah Riki and veteran scrum anchor Reg McClutchie.

Behind them, tough-as-teak lock Mike Tiopira and big No.8 Netani Seruwaqa will add bulk and unflinching hardness to the United pack.

Halfback Les Te Reo, big centre Niao Savage and fullback Brian Mitchell are all capable of creating and scoring tries. Given half a chance, even a sniff of victory, the blue-and-whites will pose an even greater threat to the home team.

Both sides know that this game is winnable.

Gray said: “We can beat City with the team we’ve got — we’re injury-free, and we’re keen.”

by Ben O’Brien-Leaf
Published May 21, 2021 1:16PM